ORONO — It took Jon Swavely a while to crack the University of Maine men’s hockey lineup. He dressed for just two of the team’s first 15 games.
The transition to Division I hockey took time.
But the freshman from Reading, Pa., has played the last six games and has provided the Black Bears with a dependable, hard-nosed third-line center and penalty-killer.
And it was his play during a 2:23 sequence in the 4-3 overtime win over Providence last Friday that helped set the tone for a weekend sweep of the Friars and Boston College (4-1).
Two minutes, 16 seconds after Joey Diamond was assessed a five-minute major and two-minute minor, supplying the Friars with a seven-minute power play, Swavely hustled after a loose puck in the neutral zone and drew a tripping penalty on PC’s Steven Shamanski. And 2:23 later, he collected his first-ever college point, a shorthanded goal to give Maine a 1-0 lead. He also helped Maine kill off the rest of the penalty when he took his PK shifts with forward partner Theo Andersson.
“(Scoring the goal) was nice. It was a good feeling,” said Swavely.
Maine, which could have easily fallen behind by a goal or two, came out of that seven-minute stretch with a 1-0 lead.
PC went 0-for-4 on the power play and Maine held BC scoreless on its four power-play chances, also.
Maine has killed off 18 of 21 opposing power plays in the last six games with two of the goals being scored in one game (Miami of Ohio).
“Jon had a great weekend. He works his tail off and has become a good penalty killer for us,” said Maine junior defenseman Will O’Neill, who added that Swavely’s play in that sequence against Providence represented a “huge turn of events for us.”
“That could have gone ugly, but it didn’t. We had some key guys step up for us on the penalty kill. When Jon drew that penalty and then scored that shorthanded goal, that was huge for us,” said O’Neill.
“(Swavely) brings it every day in practice and in the games. He works hard every time he’s on the ice, and he does the little things we need him to do: kills penalties, blocks a lot of shots and wins a lot of (puck) battles,” said Maine junior left wing Brian Flynn. “He has become an important part of our team.”
“He doesn’t give up on pucks,” said senior defenseman Mike Banwell. “He’s a battler. He works in the trenches. He has really started to gain a lot of respect from the older guys on the team like myself.”
Swavely could play a vital role on Saturday night when the Black Bears travel to Boston to conclude their season series with Greg Cronin’s Northeastern University Huskies.
“They’re a gritty, hard-working team. It’s going to be one of those games that’s going to be won in the corners and along the wall,” said Banwell.
The 5-foot-9, 175-pound Swavely has never shied away from physical play.
“I look at myself as a grinder,” said the 21-year-old Swavely. “I work hard and do what I need to do to help the team have success.”
He readily admits that it has been a “big adjustment” for him.
“It definitely took some time to get acclimated to the systems and the way the game is played at this level,” said Swavely, who was the second leading scorer in the Eastern Junior Hockey League last season with 25 goals and 45 assists in 45 games for the New Jersey Hitmen.
“Everything is a step quicker. You have to get to the puck and make a good decision in a quick amount of time,” he said. “With the (increasing) ice time. I’m getting more comfortable with the systems and the decision-making.”
He admitted that the defensive aspect of his game wasn’t his strong suit in juniors, so he talked to one of his coaches about improving that aspect of his game and it is paying off.
“I didn’t want it to be a liability. So I focused on it and it has become an even bigger focus now,” he said. “Defense is my main focus as a freshman and that (defensive responsibility) will turn into offense (on transition).”
He has also filled an important void as the third-line center. After playing right wing for his first two games, he has been a center for his last six. He has had six different linemates since he has been at center.
“It’s hard to develop a chemistry, but I’ve been able to jell with the guys I’ve played with,” said Swavely.
“With the injuries we’ve had, we’ve needed our freshmen and sophomores to elevate their games, and Jon has emerged as a legitimate center for us,” said Maine coach Tim Whitehead. “He’s gritty, he’s very responsible defensively and he’s a good faceoff man. He also has a good scoring touch, which I’m sure we will see more of.”